Those NBs recently caught up with Matt Kyte (Australia) to talk about his personal project on the New Balance 1500 Archive. His quest to document all of the 1500 colorways has lead him to a great set of illustrations. It’s great to see Matthew honing in on a personal project while archiving for the new generation of New Balance lovers. Class is in session, take notes. (All photos provided by Matt Kyte)
Why did you choose to illustrate the New Balance 1500 sneaker?
I think of all the New Balance models, very few stack up to the 1500 in terms of looks and performance. When it released the shoe was the pinnacle of what New Balance could do with a sneaker; it broke through the £100 mark in the UK market and ran with an ad campaign that basically gave everyone the impression that NASA scientists had designed it.
When I started on this project years back the 1500 was the crown jewel of the retro New Balance catalogue. Since then things have changed but I still think that the shoe itself when presented in a good colourway with the correct aggressive shape is one of the greatest shoes created.
As an artist where do you get your inspiration?
Look in no way to consider myself an “artist” or what I did with the archive art. I’m simply a complete and utter sneaker nerd that has taught himself to use the adobe design suite over a decade whom also tends to enjoy doing a bit of freelance work. There was a period in time where I was striving to get into the area of design but was quickly disheartened. I found a great hobby in playing around doing a bit of graphic work for a few colleagues and given my passion for New Balance it was only a matter of time. I’m much better at just writing rants about stuff so that’s what the site basically is, but it also happens to include the 1500 Archive.
Can you describe your process when creating the archive?
Basically what I set out to do was document all of the colourways of this shoe in it’s proper form (either USA or UK made). A few years back when I began there was a surprisingly low number of colourways out there with a few of the really obscure ones like the Just For Feet edition and the early 90s Japanese ones being particularly fantastic and basically unknown. I had a lot of images saved on my computer but thought if I was going to do it I might as well put them in a uniform way. Initially it was just for personal use but I thought it might help people and be fun to look at.
Once I had the initial template created it was all about research, the best place for me at the time was Yahoo Japan. New Balance has a great affinity with the Japanese and the place in the mid 2000’s was a mecha of fantastic colourways that we all take the knowledge of for granted now. Back when I was doing it and getting help from the guys on Crooked Tongues forums (RIP) there was a lot of stuff being discovered and a bit of debate over others. It was always exciting finding something new, especially stuff like samples and 1 of 1 colourways created for friends and family of NB.
What would your ultimate colorway be?
On the 1500, probably the original grey/navy or (because it’s rarer) the OG charcoal version. I was pretty excited when NB re-issued the charcoal ones a few years ago but the shape has gone pretty wack on the 1500 so I didn’t even bother ruining my recollection of that shoe. Luckily the 1500IB from the NB 100th anniversary is spot-on so I’ve got the OG colourway in wearable state. I do wish I bought more pairs when they were on sale though.
As a general rule the original colourway of a shoe seems to be one of the best, often when these shoes came out the launch colourway was designed to really highlight the tech features of the shoe and often suits the whole shoe’s ‘vibe’ the best. There weren’t teams of guys sitting at their computers googling the latest trends and making a shoe that would appeal to the masses, it was about showing everyone how revolutionary your footwear was. The original AM87 was about showcasing that sole, Infrared 90s are one shoe that proves you can’t beat the original and I think the 1500 has never surpassed that first grey/navy NB palette (much like most of their models). If we need me to name a contemporary then I think Solebox’s first effort is the best collaboration on that shoe, with New Balance and one of the best of all time.
What are your thoughts on the currently state of the sneaker game in your region?
I don’t like the term ‘game’, for me anyway it’s more of a lifestyle. I’ve been realizing more and more that it seems to be a game to a lot of people though. Years ago it seemed like the people into sneakers were there with the best of intentions (mostly) but now it’s more about consuming and owning everything with a name or story attached to it.
Here in Australia I think maybe we’re still a bit more sheltered from it although it does seem like it’s getting worse. I’m seeing all these new faces but I’m cautious about what their motives are. It seems like at the moment you can’t be complacent and just assume the guy walking around wearing some USA made NBs and a Supreme cap knows anything about what he’s wearing. That’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad thing, I think resisting change and recoiling from it all is a copout I just don’t know if I enjoy it as much as I did thanks to the recent rise of certain people and the kind of kids they bring with them.
Runners in particular have been pretty immune to the craziness you normally see around Jordans etc but it’s definitely switched in the last 4 or so years. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the USA has gotten more and more into it, but it’s Europe that’s really blowing the big dollars on stuff that sold for 1/3 of the price just half a decade ago. I guess it has a lot to do with the global economy and what’s fashionable at the moment in the mainstream.
What makes New Balance memorable to you? Why?
I won’t front, when I grew up New Balance wasn’t a brand that I was at all interested in, when I was younger it was more about skate brands but the music got me started on stuff like adidas/Puma. What drew me to New Balance in the first place (from Puma at the time) was initially from a purely design basis; the shape was unlike anything else and that grey/navy combo really worked. As I started really getting into New Balance a few years after I started finding out that grey was NB’s colour and the whole “Made in USA/UK” deal really struck a cord.
What came with the New Balance aficionado scene is a brand of person who probably is more anal about the details on a shoe than any other out there save for maybe some of the original adidas guys. The quality and attention to detail of some of the retro models in the late 90s – mid 2000’s is what the brand means to me in a contemporary sense. Nowadays they seem to have lost that edge, although stuff like the 1300JP, original 990 and the continuation on to the 990v.3 seem to carry the traditional NB flame.
What do you see New Balance doing differently than other brands?
Previously I’d have cited the quality, attention to detail and all-round effort involved in their products but to be honest over the last 4 or so years New Balance’s main difference is that they seem to be slipping. Whilst the brand itself seems to be having a better time than ever sales-wise, aside from the few aforementioned blips the lifestyle range has really been struggling in my opinion. Once the marker for industry quality; the UK made product has all but lost it’s appeal thanks to bulbous shapes and general quality dropping. The USA stuff has been doing much stronger but even this has gotten a bit stale, it seems like an age since there was something fresh (aside from the fantastic J.Crew collection) and I’m really sick of everything needing to be in a themed pack.
In the meantime brands like adidas and Reebok are upping their game by producing some fantastic models very accurately to the same and sometimes better quality than what New Balance is currently doing. Whilst NB talks a lot about their innovation and passion for their product I kind of think it’s much more of a marketing ploy than when they were doing their own thing quietly whilst everyone else was preoccupied with being cool. To me NB has never been cool and that’s the appeal; if you see a guy walking down the street in some 1300s, 998s, whatever, you used to think, ”He knows what’s up”. That sort of ownership of a brand is probably unwarranted but that’s what NB guys are about, it was such a small tight-knit community for so long we all feel like we built the rep of this brand and in return we’ve got this shell of what once was. I think the upcoming 997 retro will be a very telling story; that shoe means a lot to so many of the original guys that if it goes the way it’s looking a lot of people will be very disappointed. I foresee a fair few marking this as the ‘final straw’ for NB which is disappointing.
Will you be illustrating any other New Balance models?
Not to the same extent. There was talk of doing a 577 one on Crooked Tongues back when I completed the 1500 Archive, it’s also worth noting that at the time it was actually said that the 1500 was no longer going to be produced. That turned out not to be true and here we are now and I’m still updating the damned thing now. The 577 archive never eventuated, as there’s a shit load of them out there, same reason I never did a 576 archive.
I have done some work on a 997 and 1300 but those are just mine for now…
What are your next upcoming projects we can check for?
On the sneaker illustration front probably not too much other than attempting to keep the archive up-to-date. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing something for the 99x series but that’d be a long-term project. In the meantime I’ve got a piece on the 997 reissue coming out in Sneaker Freaker issue 29 and I’ll be keeping my site updated with complete drivel related to sneakers and sportswear in case anyone actually cares what I have to say. Ultimately it’s more about me just putting shit down somewhere so I can get it out of my head, I don’t care about other people and I despise the term ‘blogger’.